Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Arsenale, Venice, from a Canal below the Walls


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Support: 243 × 308 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVI 27

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘The Arsenal’): ‘Rio di San Daniele’.1 Ian Warrell has suggested that ‘the bridge and patrolled entrance that Turner depicts seems never to have existed’ and that the ‘view was imaginary, based on that looking up the Rio San Daniele, at the point where it meets the Rio della Tana, to the east of the Corderie, which has neither gateway nor crenellated walls on the right’;2 yet he ‘may, in fact, have developed the drawing over a rudimentary sketch made on the spot, for the back of the sheet has pencil studies of figures, horses and carts that were possibly jotted down while touring the Arsenale’3 (Tate D40158).
These shipyards and armouries had been a keystone of Venice’s past power and influence in the Adriatic and beyond, operating in a large complex of docks and basins well to the east of the ceremonial centre of the city, but were pathetically depleted by Turner’s time in the era of Napoleonic and Austrian control;4 today there is still a naval presence, as well as parts of the site being used for Biennale art exhibits. Although it was naturally largely off-limits, its monumental main entrance on the west side of the complex is not far up the Rio dell’Arsenale from the busy quays continuing along the Canale di San Marco from the Riva degli Schiavoni. Warrell has noted that worries about being arrested as a spy by the Austrian military probably put Turner off making more than a handful of pencil sketches during his three Venice stays, citing examples in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14419; Turner Bequest CLXXV 55) and the 1833 Venice book (Tate D32063; Turner Bequest CCCXIV 73);5 see also D32027 (CCCXIV 52) in the latter, showing the lion statues outside the main Campo dell’Arsenale entrance.
A red brick corner tower with regular white stone quoins marks the Arsenale’s less conspicuous south-eastern corner, and its base is apparently shown here, overlooking the junction where the Rio della Tana comes in eastwards from the waterfront, meeting the Rio San Daniele as it runs north. At the apparent dead end below the high wall in the distance, over which masts are seen,6 the canal turns sharply to the right, becoming the Rio delle Vergini before exiting into the broader waters of the Canale di San Pietro. Military buildings also occupied the area south-east of the turn, hence both sides of the canal are lined with high, largely blank brick walls; today, if not in Turner’s time, the near end on the right shows more variety, with residential blocks and other buildings overlooking the water.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1020.
Warrell 2003, pp.126–7; see also p.263 note 24, noting the agreement of Admiral Lorenzo Sferra, of Venice’s Museo Storico Navale.
Ibid., p.127.
See Stainton 1985, p.61, Brown 1992, p.127, and Warrell 2003, p.126.
See Warrell 2003, pp.126, 263 note 21; see also p.197.
See ibid., p.126.
See Moorby 2014, p.108.
See also ibid.
Stainton 1985, p.26; partly quoted in Warrell 2003, p.126; see also Gage 1987, p.52, and Moorby 2014, p.108.
See Wilton 1977, p.82, and Stainton 1985, p.61.
Since Warrell 2003, pp.129, 273.
Ibid., pp.126, 127.
Gage 1987, p.52.
Warrell 2003, p.127.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.355 no.483, reproduced.
Ibid., p.395 no.813, reproduced.
For a detailed listing, see Warrell 1995, p.148, with this work as no.102; see also ibid., p.96, and Warrell 2003, p.127.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.97.
Ibid., p.384.
See Warrell 1997, pp.205, 214 note 51, and 2003, p.263 note 25.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 3) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also Bower 1999, p.76.
See Warrell 2003, p.259, section 2.
Butlin 1968, p.[5].
Bower 1999, p.76.

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